Updated: Sep 8, 2021
Fall is a beautiful season: turning leaves, crisp air, finally being able to break out those boots—but, for some, it can also be a tough emotional season. The shorter, darker days may have you, or someone you know, feeling a little down—and while there are a wide variety of potential causes for feeling this way, and numerous paths that are available for treatment, there is some evidence that certain foods and nutrients can help to improve these feelings.
Studies show that following a plant-based diet, paired with regular exercise and mindfulness techniques, greatly improves general well-being and mood, and can even result in those previously diagnosed with depression to experience a full remission of their symptoms [1,2,3]. Following a strict vegan diet has also been shown to improve depression, anxiety, fatigue, social functioning, and mental health [2,3]. Self-reported mental health measures improved by 5% after 22 weeks of taking part in a vegan nutrition program . In another study, after just 12 weeks of consuming a diet rich in plant-based protein, gluten free grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, healthy oils, and natural sweeteners, only 7% percent of participants experienced no change in their mood, with 62% experiencing a large improvement .
More research needs to be done to determine the exact reasoning behind why specific foods improve mood, but the following are some spices and nutrients that have been studied, and have positive effects on mood.
Depressive symptoms improved following only eight weeks of adding this spice into the diet of teenagers (in the form of a supplement) .
Curcumin is turmeric’s active ingredient. Just six weeks of curcumin supplementation has been shown to result in a 62.5% positive response rate in mood .
An easy way to incorporate these spices into your diet is by adding them to your grains, like brown rice or quinoa.
Persistent negative mood is associated with increased inflammation. As an anti-inflammatory, this fatty acid may help to boost mood . One tablespoon of ground flaxseed provides nearly 1600mg of omega-3, and two tablespoons of chia seeds has a whopping 4900mg !
Vegans and vegetarians have a high likelihood of being deficient in this vitamin, but fortified nutritional yeast is a great source, and is easy to add into your diet . Try sprinkling some over your veggies or adding it to your popcorn!
Sun grown mushrooms are one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D besides fortified foods, and the vitamin D they contain is just as bio-available and effective as taking a supplement . Look for mushrooms in the produce aisle packaged with a label indicating them as containing vitamin D.
What do you do to boost your mood when the days get shorter and temperature gets cooler?
Null G, Pennesi L. Diet and lifestyle intervention on chronic moderate to severe depression and anxiety and other chronic conditions. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2017;29:189-193. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2017.09.007
Agarwal U, Mishra S, Xu J, Levin S, Gonzales J, Barnard N. A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial of a Nutrition Intervention Program in a Multiethnic Adult Population in the Corporate Setting Reduces Depression and Anxiety and Improves Quality of Life: The GEICO Study. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2015;29(4):245-254. doi:10.4278/ajhp.130218-quan-72.
Katcher H, Ferdowsian H, Hoover V, Cohen J, Barnard N. A Worksite Vegan Nutrition Program Is Well-Accepted and Improves Health-Related Quality of Life and Work Productivity. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2010;56(4):245-252. doi:10.1159/000288281
Lopresti A, Drummond P, Inarejos-García A, Prodanov M. affron ® , a standardised extract from saffron (Crocus sativus L.) for the treatment of youth anxiety and depressive symptoms: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Affect Disord. 2018;232:349-357. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2018.02.070
Sanmukhani J, Satodia V, Trivedi J et al. Efficacy and Safety of Curcumin in Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Phytotherapy Research. 2013;28(4):579-585. doi:10.1002/ptr.5025
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Fact Sheet. Namistl.org. https://www.namistl.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/144/2016/11/omega3_factsheet.pdf. Published 2018.
SELF Nutrition Data | Food Facts, Information & Calorie Calculator. Nutritiondata.self.com. https://nutritiondata.self.com/. Published 2018.
Vitamin B12: Vegan Sources. Veganhealth.org. https://veganhealth.org/vitamin-b12-vegan-sources/. Published 2018.
Keegan R, Lu Z, Bogusz J, Williams J, Holick M. Photobiology of vitamin D in mushrooms and its bioavailability in humans. Dermatoendocrinol. 2013;5(1):165-176. doi:10.4161/derm.23321
Chelsi Brown is a graduate student of the Coordinated Program in Dietetics at Georgia State University. With a background in exercise science and health coaching, she aspires to one day be a sports dietitian, helping athletes to perform and feel their best! In her free time, you can find her at the local gym, playing with her pup Buffy, or dancing her heart out at music festivals.